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VR is reshaping how you see live entertainment (even without wearing a headset)

VR will never replace the feeling of being at a live event, but the brains behind the shows are using the technology to design better views for every seat in the house.

Now playing: Watch this: VR is being used to create better live entertainment

With the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift hitting shelves, VR is the in thing and CNET is predicting it's here to stay. But we're seeing the benefits of VR without even needing to don a headset, with designers using the technology to help themselves build bigger, more well organised live shows.

Sydney-based Artists in Motion (AIM), the creative studio behind the live projections seen in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is one such team of designers. Its latest work is Songlines, a 16-minute exploration of Indigenous Australian art and culture projected onto the Sydney Opera House for Vivid, the city's annual three-week festival of lights, music and ideas.

For this project, the studio built the iconic Opera House in 3D, as well as the surrounding walkways along the harbour. Using an Oculus headset, they could then walk around a true-to-life virtual Opera House and harbour to see how their projections would look to any of Vivid's million-plus visitors.


One of the designers uses Oculus and a controller to navigate a virtual Sydney Harbour.

Artists In Motion/Capture by Dave Cheng/CNET

This insight allowed the team to tweak and remap its projections to look great from any and all vantage points. "That's where virtual reality and how we were able to rebuild this in a three dimensional space became a really big tool for us," said Caterina Vicaretti, AIM's creative director.

This isn't the first time the team has worked on the Opera House. It also designed a 2013 projection just before VR began to take off. "Without a doubt, VR helped quicken the workflow," says AIM Head of Production Robbie Klaesi. "In 2013 there were days of tweaking that followed [the projections going live], whereas this time around it was almost spot on."

VR allowed the team see the virtual projection from any angle, making adjustments as needed.

Artists In Motion/Gif by Dave Cheng/CNET

VR is letting designers walk around stadiums that haven't been built, sit in any seat in a theatre, and understand how to improve their projections. That insight is so invaluable that VR is a now part of AIM's work process for all current and future projects. For Klaesi, the extra time they spend within virtual spaces serves one purpose, "to ensure every live view can be as good as another person's viewpoint."

Don't expect virtual reality to replace live shows anytime soon though. Klaesi says "It's all about being part of the atmosphere," and a large crowd is something you won't get wearing a headset. But that atmosphere paired with VR-informed creative decisions will enhance live events for everyone -- even those in the nosebleeds.